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TMN Tinnies January 11, 2022

TMN Tinnies Spotlight: Leah Flanagan on ‘breaking the cycle’

Senior Journalist, B2B
TMN Tinnies Spotlight: Leah Flanagan on ‘breaking the cycle’
Pictured: Leah Flanagan / Photographer: Katherine McDonald / Source: Supplied

Last month The Music Network announced the winners of its annual business awards, TMN Tinnies. This week TMN’s contributing editor, Christie Eliezer, shines a spotlight on five of the winners. Up next is Music Music Business Leader Of The Year, won by Leah Flanagan. The 2021 TMN Tinnies were supported by Humm Events, iHeartRadio Australia, Ingrooves, TikTok and Vevo.


Singer-songwriter, guitarist and arts manager Leah Flanagan had two senior music business appointments within a few months of each other.

She became director of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music Office (NATSIMO) for APRA AMCOS in November 2019, and First Nations music producer for music export organisation Sounds Australia in January 2020.

With a First Nations (Alyawarre), Italian (Venetian) and Irish heritage, and a degree in classical music, Flanagan’s collaborations included Sinead O’Connor, Meshell Ndegeocello, poet Sam Wagan Watson, The Black Arm Band, Paul Kelly and playwright Ursula Yovich.

As for her role as a music business leader who initiates different perceptions and new programs, she explains, “I like leaders who are inclusive and help me learn about being a better person.

“That’s what I see in a leader.

“You learn that going into a meeting with the intention of breaking the cycle is important.

“Not everyone has the answers. But everyone deserves the chance to learn and self-educate.”

Early in the NATSIMO role, Flanagan teamed with Terri Janke, a leading international authority on Indigenous cultural and intellectual property and a woman of Wuthathi/Meriam heritage, to develop a detailed strategic vision and plan.

The idea is to improve visibility for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island (ATSI) creatives and music executives through partnerships with the national music industry, and discussions with government and the private sector to put forward ATSI views.

“We worked with the film industry through the Australian Guild of Screen Composers and Screen Australia to address the lack of indigenous composers in the film sector.”

Indigenous composers and musicians account for less than 1% of screen composers nationally.

NATSIMO and the Guild held composer masterclasses and co-authored a survey to identify ATSI barriers in collaboration with Screen Australia.

As part of pathways to enter the commercial music sector, NATSIMO delivered a 3-day studio intensive RESONATE at Sydney’s Studios 301 for ATSI members of APRA AMCOS.

Mentored by movie composer and producer Francois Tetaz, and supported by studio engineer Antonia Gauci, attendees included recent Grammy nominee Vincent Goodyer (18YOMAN), Brendon Boney (The Magpie Swoop/ Microwave Jenny), Tasman Keith, Mindy Kwanten/ Bow & Arrow and Mi-kaisha.

In addition, within APRA AMCOS, Flanagan was instrumental, alongside Gillian Dunn (senior manager culture and engagement), in informing work on its first Equity Action Plan.

Photographer: LaVonne Bobongie / Source: Supplied

Noteworthy initiatives established by Flanagan included:

* The Better Allies Conversations to APRA AMCOS management and staff on shifting perceptions and committing to actions that address inequity;

* Creating employment pathways for those from historically marginalised backgrounds;

* A review of licensing and distribution processes in relation to First Nations music and content across film, TV and radio;

* APRA AMCOS’ legal team working with lawyer and arts advocate Delwyn Everard to develop the Wills Project & registration of Works of Traditional Cultural Expression;

* Supporting APRA AMCOS’ work on a Reflect level Reconciliation Action Plan, including establishing a RAP Advisory Group of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people to advise APRA AMCOS on its RAP;

* Advising the People & Culture team on recruitment, selection and onboarding practices and enabling partnerships with ATSI employment and recruitment services to ensure job opportunities are accessible to reach potential employees from those communities.

During the COVID lockdown, NATSIMO offered the Virtual First Nations Suite – a monthly online program from February to June of a composer masterclass, production masterclass and ongoing co-writing opportunities with Mo’ju, Candice McLeod, Joel Quartermain, Milan Ring, Narayana Johnson, Deline Briscoe, Bobby Alu, Tia Gostelow and Shane Nicholson.

NATSIMO was also able to provide crisis support through its Sustainability Fund: 50 grants of $2,000 made possible through funding provided by the Australian Government.

2021 has been a remarkable year for First Nations acts, with The Kid LAROI factor inspiring Black kids to take up pop, Baker Boy on mainstream TV ads and the Blaksound conference used to outline plans for an alternative to a white-dominated and tokenistic music industry.

“We have a lot more visibility than we’ve ever had, and more pathways to opportunities have been defined,” agrees Flanagan.

“We’re seeing more representation from people who live outside the East Coast bubble.”

However, she warns, in the rush to applaud First Nations musicians now looking at breaking Los Angeles and London post-LAROI, it is important to realise that for musicians moving from the regionals to Sydney and Melbourne is still a traumatic experience.

More music companies are hiring First Nations personnel in A&R and management roles, but there are discussions with universities to create pathways to expanded legal, tech and legal roles.

“We still have a way to go because my concerns are that the visibility is meaningful and that people deserve to be there because they’re great at what they do rather than band-aiding a situation because people noticed the disparity from something like Black Lives Matter.”

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